Scott Sanchez started tying flies with whatever he could find — deer hair, pheasant feathers, anything he saw on the edge of the road that he thought he could tie into a piece resembling fish food.
He was 12 when he started tying flies, inspired by his brother-in-law Boy Scout leader, who brought some supplies to a meeting and encouraged the boys to give it a go. Sanchez started with whatever he could scrounge up, then started selling his flies to purchase more materials from mail-order catalogs.
“You have to support your habit, you know?” said Sanchez, 56, with a laugh.
Within a year or two, he was teaching adults how to tie a balanced bug. It’s a skill he still teaches today, and though his materials are obtained a little differently, he said those who approach it with the same ingenuity often have the best luck.
A lot of resourcefulness and a little creativity goes a long way in fly tying.
“I used to be considered one of the more innovative tyers, and I think a lot of it comes from if I saw something in a book or something, I just used what I had,” Sanchez said. “It was like, who cares? It will work.”
With three books, a regular column in American Angler and a schedule of fly tying classes, Sanchez is well known as a local fishing guru. And as a staple in the fishing department at JD High Country Outfitters, his advice is always in demand.
There’s always someone wanting to bend his ear, whether it’s for advice on the best flies or waders, or a customer just wanting to share the details of a recent fishing trip. He’s constantly bouncing from one person to the next, but he doesn’t really tire of it.
He gets it. He loves it, too. Fishing, he said, connects the world of land and water with a thin line, and it’s a special connection for a lot of people.
“We’re living in one medium and they’re living in another, and you kind of meet in this twilight zone,” he said. “That’s kind of cool.”
He’s fished big and he’s fished small, across the country and across the world. He’s caught tarpon in the Florida Keys, stalked cutthroat in Flat Creek, and once accidentally hooked an alligator in Florida. He knows where to find fish, what fly to use and how to place his line exactly where he wants it.
He also knows there’s a component to his success that has nothing to do with years of practice. And he’s humble about it.
“A basic skill level is key, but there’s definitely a lot of dumb luck involved in there,” Sanchez said. “That’s the fun of fishing. When you think you’ve got it figured out ... you never have it figured out.”
But while he’s known as the fish guy — he’s one of the go-to employees at High Country, ran the wholesale department at Dan Bailey Fly Fishing in Livingston, Montana, worked at the Austin Angler in Austin, Texas — he says he’s really more of an outdoorsman. He can chat about rifles as easily as fly rods, and enjoys all things outdoors himself, including hunting, mountain biking and camping.
He’s spent most of his career in outdoor retail, and he spends most of his free time in nature.
“I live at the base of Cache Creek,” he said. “You can have a horrible day and ... all of a sudden you’re out in the woods.”
It’s a passion that started early, back in Salt Lake City, where he grew up riding his bike with friends to the city’s water supply pond to test their luck fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout. Around the same time he started tying flies he started running competitively, and eventually began leading the pack in high school track and cross-country meets.
He went on to study at the University of Utah, where he was a student athlete, excelling in biking and running, once logging a 2-hour, 37-minute marathon. He studied recreation management.
“I managed not to get a degree,” he said with a smile, “but I went there for five years.”
Instead he turned his part-time job at a local sporting goods store into a full-time job. And in 1984, when a friend called and offered a similar job, with the promise of housing and some great hunting and fishing, Sanchez headed to Wyoming. With the exception of a few short blips when he lived in Texas and Montana, he’s been settled in Jackson Hole.
His 19-year-old son, Thibaud, doesn’t share his love of fishing, but he did pick up his father’s love of the outdoors, instead preferring hunting and oil painting outside.
“He’s into hanging out outside, but he’s not into the fishing part of it,” Sanchez said. “I swear to God, fish were allergic to him. But he’s always been into the outdoors. He’d go along and take guns and bows.”
His wife, Barb, is in the same boat — loves the outdoors, isn’t that into fishing. Sanchez doesn’t care how he spends time outside, really. Being outside with the ones you love is the important part.
“I really like fishing. That’s probably my main thing. But I go with the flow,” he said. “If there’s ice floes in the river and there’s 15 inches of white power, it’s kind of like, well, you’ve got to be kidding.
“That’s why you’re here in Wyoming,” he said, “the catharsis of being outside.”